Zero Discrimination Day is an opportunity to better educate and advocate to end stigma toward people who have lived or are living with substance use disorders
March 1, Zero Discrimination Day – People with substance use disorder (SUD) experience many forms of stigma, resulting in inequality and discrimination that knows no geographical boundaries. In Canada 1/10 Canadians experience SUD, but only 1/3 of them have access to services for recovery, and almost half of those who did get help, reported stigma as a barrier (CCSA, 2020). Stigma towards those with a substance use problem is widespread and appears in peoples’ language, attitudes, and behaviours and negatively discriminates against people with a SUD.
Ending stigma, ending silence
People who use(d) substances and people with a SUD experience the harms caused by stigma and are able to best understand that stigma is a deeply held set of false beliefs by society, about a group of people with at least one attribute in common. That is the basis from which, the judgment, oppression and discrimination, of a group of people, takes place. This discrimination takes the form of either overt actions, attitudes, system designs, policies or the complicity of silent bystanders. The good news is that this definition holds the solution to end stigma. That solution is, the education of people who oppress others, with the goal to end the false beliefs. This education is ideally led by those suffering, along with their previously silent allies. When those acts of discrimination and oppression are witnessed, the silence ends.
Substance use disorders are among the most stigmatized conditions
Stigma associated with significant structural, and social groups, in addition to self-stigma, negatively impacts the lives of people using drugs and results in difficulty in accessing recovery services and resources. Structural stigma is inherent in the rules, policies, and procedures of public and private institutions.
The problem cuts across social, enforcement, health, justice and development sectors and systems that restrict the rights and opportunities for those with substance use disorders
The World Health Organization recent studies show that hazardous alcohol and drug use disorders are among the most stigmatized conditions. Further research clearly demonstrates that reducing this stigma is a key factor in ensuring positive outcomes for prevention, treatment, and harm reduction measures.
A situation worsened by the pandemic
Unfortunately, with the COVID-19 outbreak, isolation and loss of income has further deteriorated the situation. People with problematic substance use have experienced increased levels of stress and anxiety leading to increased alcohol consumption and use of cannabis and tobacco. Statistics Canada has determined that alcohol consumption has increased for those ages between 35 – 54, and people aged 15 – 34 years are more likely to increase their use of alcohol, cannabis, and tobacco than those 55 years of age and older (SC, 2020 & CCSA, 2020).
CAPSA’s approach to reduce stigma
Zero Discrimination Day is an opportunity for the Community Addiction and Peer Support Association (CAPSA) to attract allies and expand our partnerships at the international level, to better educate and advocate to end stigma and discriminatory acts toward people who have lived or are living with SUD. CAPSA has taken an active role in partnering with national and international institutions to improve quality of life for those with SUD, eliminate all forms of inequality and discrimination and promote diversity, inclusion, and ensure equal opportunities for those who suffer from substance use.
CAPSA’s strategic approach is to lead evidence-based contact programming to reduce stigma, educate stakeholders, provide group peer support meetings, and create a supporting environment for people with SUD.
The organization partners with stakeholders at national, provincial, and local levels, with NGOs, health professionals and members of the community, to create more resilient and inclusive cultures, that reduce stigma and support wellness through diversified and institutionally resourced interventions.
Education and language training
CAPSA, in partnership with government and nongovernment institutions, universities, indigenous wellness organizations, LGBTQ2S+ communities, and the francophone population, has launched many initiatives. These include the #StigmaEndswithMe Campaign, stigma free group peer support meetings – All People All Pathways and dozens of community projects, educational workshops, and diverse materials, to raise awareness, reduce stigma and improve health services for people with substance use problems. CAPSA has provided educational workshops and Person First Language training to many health professionals, students, and professional workers in many organizations. Participants reported becoming more knowledgeable about stigma and SUD and have committed to make changes to their language and services.
Systemic stigma exists because many of those in positions of power hold false beliefs. No significant progress can be made until people are educated, even if they perceive themselves not to be involved in the oppression.
Therefore, the first step is for people with lived or living experience to offer the education, the first step by those who oppress is to accept that they need to learn and the first step for our allies is to stand beside us, not in front of us. In so doing, the suffering of those using substances and those with SUD is diminished.
Canadian Center on Substance Use and Addiction, 2020. COVID-19 and Increased Alcohol Consumption. By Nanos.
Canadian Center on Substance use and Addiction, 2020. Canadian Substance Use Costs and Harms. University of Victoria.